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Friday, December 15, 2006


Jerome Keating: Arrigo Vs Soong

Arrigo vs. Soong: Point, Counterpoint in Taiwan's History
Thursday December 14, by Jerome F. Keating Ph.D.

Sunday December 10th 2006 was a full and auspicious day in Taiwan. Much was going on. The day previous in the Taipei and Kaohsiung Mayoral Elections, the people had passed judgment on all the hullabaloo and charge/counter-charge of corruption that had plagued Taiwan in the past six months. The people were not buying into the pan-blue propaganda. Further as a result of his personal defeat in that election, James Soong finally resigned from politics (hopefully in the eyes of many for good).

This day was also Human Rights Day and the twenty-seventh anniversary of the Kaohsiung Incident. As a result, two interesting forums were hosted by Academia Historica, one on Taiwan's White Terror and the other on the Voice of Taiwan, an ingenious information relay system developed and run by overseas Taiwanese.

The Voice of Taiwan was developed in 1977 by Eileen Chang (Yang Yi-yi), Steve Lin and the Taiwanese Association of New York when the Chinese Nationalist Party's (KMT) one-party state controlled all media and news access to Taiwan. By use of phones and recording systems Taiwanese were able to circumvent that control and get information to all in the States as to what was really happening inside Taiwan.

On stage as a panelist for the Voice of Taiwan forum was Linda Gail Arrigo, a long time democracy activist whose time in Taiwan predates the Kaohsiung Incident of which she was an active participant. Her life had crossed and re-crossed paths with that of James Soong who in the previous day's 2006 mayoral elections had received a mere 4.14% (53,281 votes) of all the votes cast.

The contrast of their lives was brought out to me in full when, at a break in the forum presentation, I picked up and read an article written by James Soong in the Free China Review of February 1980. James Soong with a Ph.D. in Political Science from Georgetown University (1974) was then Head of the Government Information Office (GIO). He was responsible for monitoring and controlling all media news of Taiwan, and for putting the best possible spin on Taiwan's one-party state. His article was written right after the Kaohsiung Incident and just prior to the trials of those involved. It bore the ironic title, To heal, not to hate.

People involved in social and political actions for or against a cause or a state, have multiple motivations. Some act primarily for their own gain, some act for their party which provides them with their means of sustenance, some act for principle, and some act for the best interests of all the people in the state. These motivations are not mutually exclusive and often several are present in any person at the same time. The key is not how many or the variety of motivations but what priority each of them takes in a person's mind and actions. This priority is often only discovered over the long haul and not in the brief happenings of the moment.

As I read this article with the benefit of this long term perspective and history, I was struck by the disproportionate amount of space that the head of the GIO, James Soong, had then dedicated to criticizing a 30 year-old American woman, Linda Gail Arrigo, and to painting her as a terrorist in the Kaohsiung Incident. It was either a tribute to her effectiveness or the paranoia of a party so bent on control that it could not tolerate even a single dissident voice.

Linda Arrigo's father was American military; she had attended Taipei American School in the mid 1960s and had returned to Taiwan in May 1977 with a Masters in Anthropology. Her purpose was to do Ph.D. research on the changing family system in Taiwan as a result of women's employment in the workplace. Her work had therefore involved her with the common people and laborers and those suffering most under an imposed one-party state.

Soong wrote the following in his article justifying the putdown of the Kaohsiung Incident in Free China Review, the official government magazine sent all over the world.

"Another example may be cited involving an American citizen, Miss Ai Lin Da (Linda Arrigo), an active participant in the Kaohsiung Incident. After she was expelled from the Republic of China December 15 (1979), she went to Tokyo and then Hong Kong, where she made false reports to the press."

"Ai Lin Da has been an active conspirator and participant. Upon arriving in Taiwan several years ago, she claimed to be a representative of Amnesty International. Rather she was continuously engaged in spreading rumors and lies intended to damage the government internationally. . . Ai Lin Da reminds me of Borodin, the Russian advisor sent to China when the Chinese Communist movement was in its infancy. She seems to aspire to become the Borodin of today, serving anti-government elements. . . She helped instigate riots in the name of human rights and freedom. Her methods resemble those of the Chinese Communists."

Soong was technically wrong in calling Arrigo "Miss" since she had had a quasi-political marriage with Shih Ming-deh, one of the leaders of the Kaohsiung Incident. Both of them worked together on Formosa, a magazine critical of the government. It was in that capacity that she, as it turned out, had received the first phone call from the Voice of Taiwan in the States. Eileen Chang was seeking information on the continued status of Taiwan after Chiang Ching-kuo had cancelled the National Assembly elections in 1978.

Soong went on in the article trying to demonstrate how the KMT government was open to all. "Regardless of sex, creed or place of birth, anyone in this country has the same opportunity to be educated, to seek employment, to participate in politics and to enter into other forms of social activity."

Soong's words on equality of participation in politics (my emphasis) contrasted sharply with the facts of the time. In January 1978, the Legislative Yuan had 406 members, 87% of them were life-term KMT members from mainland China, 13% were limited-term members from Taiwan. The Control Yuan had 64 members, 77% of them were life-term KMT members from mainland China, 23% were limited-term members from Taiwan. The National Assembly had 1,248 members and 95% of them were life-term KMT members from mainland China and 5% were limited-term members from Taiwan.

All of the above forced me to examine what had happened to Soong and Arrigo since the Kaohsiung Incident (1979) and to think about their multiple motivations. Arrigo was deported and black-listed from returning to Taiwan. She got her Ph.D. and finally when Lee Teng-hui removed the black-list restrictions was able to return to Taiwan in the early 1990s. She has since worked on issues in Taiwan, helping the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) but now belongs to the Green Party, a small party more concerned with Taiwan's environment. In her commitment to Taiwan she has obtained Permanent Residency. She is an average worker and by no means wealthy.

James Soong continued to rise in the KMT and became Provincial Governor of Taiwan. When the party did not select him as its presidential nominee in 2000, he broke and ran as an independent thus splitting the vote and causing the party to lose the presidency. He formed his own party, the People First Party (PFP) and has cooperated with but also competed with the KMT for power and elections. Soong has amassed a large amount of wealth and has numerous houses in the United States and perhaps even some property in the People's Republic of China (PRC).

Arrigo never turned out to be the Borodin that Soong claimed she was. She has never visited the PRC nor worked with the Chinese Communists. Soong on the other hand made great efforts to go there recently, to shake hands with Hu Jintao and to promise to work for unification with those same Communists.

I considered again the question of multiple motivations and priorities. Who is for their own gain, who is for a political party, who is for principle, and who is for the best interests of all the people in the state?

Such a long-term view and perspective on the history of Taiwan and the players involved is what I often see lacking in the foreign media and press as they make their reports and try to sensationalize the news of what is happening today in Taiwan.

The closing oily remarks of Soong in his 1980 article are even more telling. As he strives to convince the international public of the magnanimity of the KMT's governmental control, he cloaks his speech in high sounding phrases similar to those that now mask the KMT's refusal to admit to its stolen state assets or to put the people of Taiwan first in relationship to the PRC.

Soong writes, "While learning a lesson from the Kaohsiung Incident, we should hold grudges against no one. Those who have erred will be punished by the law and by their own conscience. It is time for us to heal the wounds that were inflicted and put hate out of our minds."

In a few short weeks after Soong's article appeared, at the end of that very month on 2-28 (er-er-ba), the mother and two young twin daughters of Lin Yi-hsiung (a jailed participant of the Kaohsiung Incident) were brutally stabbed to death in their home at high noon. The home was under 24 hour surveillance by the KMT Garrison Command and police. The KMT bore no grudges.


At 5:38 AM, Blogger Taiwan Echo said...

Further as a result of his personal defeat in that election, James Soong finally resigned from politics (hopefully in the eyes of many for good).

Dear Jerome, Soong didn't say he wanted to resign "from politics". He specifically announced that he wanted to resign "from Taiwan's politics." It seems that he already had something else in his mind before he said that.

At 2:46 PM, Blogger Poseidon206 said...

James Soong is resigning from Taiwan's politics... To me he never was in Taiwan's politics, He's always in China's politics.

At 5:32 PM, Anonymous Jerome said...

You both are right; we probably have not seen the last of James Soong by any means. He will definitely still be trying to influence the politics of the island perhaps from Shanghai or San Francisco. He now seems to be forming his own think tank etc. (If you can't be president, you can still pressure the one that is)


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